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[BKARTS] Folios in twos

It is never necessary to correct Richard Noble on matters concerning the
format of  c17 English books, but here is the somewhat fuller answer I was
about to submit to Book-arts-L before noticing his excellent, less prolix one:

It was customary London printing practice in the c16-c18 to impose folio
sheets in twos (ie put the pages of type into iron forms on the bed of the
printing press so as to produce two-leaf, four-page gatherings containing
pages 1,2,3, and 4 (or pages 121, 122, 123, and 124, or whatever) and then
sew the resulting two-leaf gatherings two- or three-on (ie skipping sewing
stations in a systematic fashion in order to save time), relying on the
gluing up of the spine to hold everything in place;     for an account of
two-on and related abbreviated sewing patterns, see Bernard Middleton's
classic "History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique" [1963; many later
    Continental practice was more commonly to impose folio sheets in fours
or sixes (ie arrange the pages of type in forms so as to produce four
leaf/eight-page or six leaf/twelve-page gatherings consisting of two or
three folio sheets, one inside the other).
    Imposing folios in twos generally requires less type than imposing in
fours or sixes, since with folio in twos you can go to press once the inner
form (the second and third pages) has been set, redistributing the type
after printing it and thus augmenting the type in the cases available to
set the fourth and final page of the gathering before machining the outer
form. Setting folios in fours seriatim, you need to set  the first five
pages before having a complete form to print; setting seriatim in sixes,
you need to set the first seven pages before being able to print.
    Admitted, if the printer is doing a page for page reprint, and knows
in advance what each page of text will contain, he can set by forms [ie
begin by setting and printing the 6th and 7th pages in folios in sixes] and
there is no savings in the amount of type needed. But in English practice,
even for folio reprints, printers greatly preferred to impose folios in
twos; the forces of tradition and custom were very strong in the printing
trades in the hand-press period. For a further discussion of setting by
forms, see the early part of the "Composition" chapter (pp 40 ff) in
Gaskell's "New Introduction to Bibliography."

A question for those of you more knowing in the area of printing history
than I:   When and why did the practice of printing skinny gatherings
arise? That is to say, printing thick books in gatherings of bifolia (or
what ever you want to call them-4 leaves, 8 pages).  The example before me
is an English printed book (London, 1668) nearly 1000 pages, in skinny
gatherings, good but thin paper, with the folds virtually destroyed by
the deterioration of the spine (bad leather+over-cooked animal glue).  It
will take me forever to mend the thing, longer to sew it, and I hate
sewing up. Given the number of gatherings the printer has cursed me
with,  I don't think I'd have much choice even if I didn't have to mend
folds.  So why was the format so common?
Dorothy Africa

Terry Belanger : University Professor : University of Virginia : Rare Book School : 114 Alderman Library : Charlottesville, VA 22903 : Telephone 434/924-8851 fax 434/924-8824 email belanger@xxxxxxxxxxxx : URL <http://www.rarebookschool.org>

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